Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Dr. Chaplin

Least favourite TMNT character?

I may have some unkind words for Irma and April from the old cartoon, but Dr. Chaplin is a special kind of irritating. As a bonus, he's constantly drawn to/compared with characters I do like, and there's no shame in disliking him even more for that.

Dr. Chaplin is one of the few original characters created for the 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. Voiced by Sam Regal, he's a young scientist who came to work for the Foot by unknown means. Rather cheerful for a villain, he idolizes Dr. Baxter Stockman, and has a crush on Karai, the Shredder's adopted daughter.

Chaplin first makes his affection known by making "Amazonian Blade Bots", robots in Karai's likeness that will fight the Turtles. He asks her, "You don't mind, do you?  It's just that…well…I mean, you're just so…perfect."

Karai appears put off by this, and I can't blame her. It might seem like an earnest tribute from Chaplin, but it's also somebody using your likeness without your permission, someone that you barely know. It's creepy, and reminds me of Mike Sorayama and his Leslie Bots from The Venture Brothers: a guy who can't work up the courage to talk to a girl and so makes robot substitutes.

But when Karai succeeds to leadership of the Foot, Chaplin is always there as a loyal servant to his "Mistress Karai", and by the end of the fifth season, they've hooked up. It's never said in dialogue, but obvious by the way the two walk off into the sunset holding hands.

Chaplin is that kind of creepy, schlubby guy character who has a crush on a woman higher on the social ladder and "gets" her by. Which might be a nice example of "love conquers all", if it wasn't always about a guy getting a girl that's "out of his league".

This plot usually has the girl start out disdainful of the guy, but coming around and realizing he's not so bad after all. She is the one who must change to accept him, which is exactly what happens between Chaplin and Karai.

Furthermore, Karai's acceptance of Chaplin is framed by her inglorious defeat in battle, after spending so little time as a star villain. It suggests that Karai accepting Chaplin was also a window to living a new life, free of vengeance and indecision. The attraction between the two is valorized and glorified as the right direction for her, and Chaplin never gets comeuppance for his creepiness. She, like a lot of other female characters before her, isn't allowed to stay repelled by a suitor unless he's pure evil.

On the male side of things, Chaplin represents nothing flattering. He's the idea that a guy can be a servant to a woman instead of actually engaging with her, put her on a pedestal instead of treating her as a human being, and that that's the way to get into her pants. It's pretty gross on that end, too.

In short, Chaplin is a the Nice Guy who is loyal to a woman just on the passive hope she will start to see him as a romantic partner. He will never ask her directly, nor make his intentions clear, but always be there for her, and hope it will click. He wishes to gain a relationship through deception. Chaplin never told Karai he loved her, only trailed after her like a shadow, yet his wish was granted nonetheless.

What makes Chaplin my least favourite character is this connection to some very disturbing and ugly attitudes about gender. But his behaviour is also considered neutral or admirable, and we're supposed to love the creepy little hoser, so that makes it worse.

That, and he seems like one of those perpetually-happy guys that you would just hate so much in real life.

Chaplin would be my least favourite character anyway, but some things add to the problem. Firstly, he has hero worship for Dr. Baxter Stockman, who wants nothing to do with him. While Stockman is my favourite character in the show, what defines their relationship is the way Chaplin irritates him.

Chaplin might have given Stockman a new robot body, but Stockman could have gotten that from anywhere, and Chaplin remains oblivious to Stockman's dislike. He's an irritant to my favourite character, rather than a benefit, and that's another mark against him.

When Chaplin first appeared in the episode "New Blood", many fans said that Chaplin had a strong resemblance to the old cartoon's Baxter Stockman, aka "White Baxter", which sucks, since I like White Baxter.

But I really don't understand the comparison. Sure, they're both eager-to-please, high-voiced white nerds working for the Shredder, but Chaplin is much younger and more cheerful. His loyalty to the Foot and admiration for the other Stockman is also genuine, while Baxter is only ruled by fear and has no real loyalty.

Chaplin isn't actually brave, but he's also never presented as cowardly or treacherous the way Baxter is. I guess the qualities I first mentioned would be enough, but it seems like there should be more if so many people made the connection. Regardless, I won't like Chaplin because he's supposedly similar to a character I do like.

Ultimately, Chaplin is a creep. He brings a very disturbing aspect of modern popular culture into the Turtles' world, that of the creepy guy who gets the hot chick simply because the narrative demands it. There's other junk, but that's the core of it.

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